Ethics has been the code of good corporate behavior for some time. However, these assumptions were based upon the Judeo-Christian-Muslim concepts of spirituality and relished in the Western tradition. As the world’s global workplace becomes larger the ethical decision making process becomes so confusing. When we add in international, national and regional law there may not be such a thing as global ethics yet.
The first thing we have to understand is what actually is. Ethics is one part culture, one part religious assumptions and one part law. Ethics and religion, law and culture may actually differ from each other. You know you have made an ethical decision when you have adhered to at least two of the three spheres of influence. You got it right?
Ethics means different things to different people. As we begin to change the assumptions underneath ethics such as someone’s religious beliefs or local laws we begin to change what is considered ethical. For example, what is called bribery in the United States may actually be legal and good practice in a third world nation.
The U.S. and its European customers have been the major players pushing the western ethical model in the international business region. They have the power to do this because they have the biggest financial markets. However, now that China is growing larger these ethical assumptions may begin to change.
Take the following as an example. Writings on international business ethics suggest that the decisions regarding ethical actions are complex, multifaceted, and elusive (Buller, Kohls & Anderson, 1997). Even the scholars disagree about what is ethical and what is not ethical and ethics then becomes determined by legal rulings.
When an organization is ethical it has the ability to understand ethical decisions, has ongoing dialogue about global ethics, and it has internal structures to maintain ethical behavior. Yet this description doesn’t show what ethical assumptions that businesses should be using.
The question of which ethical model you should use depends on the nature of your business and who its customers are. If your business is based within the United States your business should run under the ethical understanding held within the U.S. If your business has the majority of its customers outside the U.S. then you should use the European model of ethics endorsed by the world community while still adhering to the laws of the U.S. and the foreign countries.
There is no single standard of ethics and ethical behaviors.